El Paso at a Glance
Location: West Texas
Access: Interstate 10; El Paso International Airport
Hotel Rooms: 10,000 (1,200 downtown)
Visit El Paso
El Paso Convention Center
Built: 1964; renovations 2002-04, 2015-17 and 2022
Exhibit Space: 80,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: 17 breakouts, 15,000 square feet
Hotel Paso Del Norte
Guest rooms: 350
Meeting Space: 32,000 square feet
Wyndham El Paso
Guest rooms: 272
Meeting Space: 17,000 square feet
Marriott El Paso
Guest rooms: 296
Meeting Space: 13,400 square feet
Who’s Meeting in El Paso
Texas Society of Architects
American Planning Association Texas Chapter
Legendary country singer Marty Robbins had a huge hit on country and pop music charts with a song titled “El Paso.” To paraphrase the opening lines of that song: Out in the West Texas town of El Paso/You’ll fall in love with a great destination.
In the song, a cowboy singer’s affection is for a beautiful Mexican girl. Yours will be for a city that delivers a colorful blend of cultures, updated meeting spaces, centuries of history, creative cuisine and honest-to-goodness streetcars. And it is all set against the dramatic backdrop of the Franklin Mountains.
El Paso is the sixth largest city in Texas, but it’s a long haul from the other five (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth). It’s so far west that it’s the only Texas city in the Mountain Time Zone. In a sense, it’s strategically located — equidistant between Houston and San Diego on the interstate, if you can imagine that.
This spot on the Rio Grande River has been important for centuries. It was along the El Camino Real, the colonial route from Mexico City to Santa Fe in what now is New Mexico. Native Americans traversed that route long before the Spanish conquistadors and empire builders named it. American pioneers and soldiers followed.
Today’s city is a treat for convention and leisure visitors alike. It’s leisure attributes translate well into facilities and activities for convention-goers — both during meetings and outside of meeting dates.
The El Paso Convention Center is the place for bigger meetings, and it is within walking distance of an array of hotels, restaurants and museums, plus the urban oasis of San Jacinto Plaza.
(El Paso trivia: You may hear the plaza called Plaza de Los Lagartos — Alligator Plaza. That’s because the city once kept gators in a pond there. The last resident reptiles went to the El Paso Zoo in the 1970s, but that at least explains the impressive alligator statue in a desert city.)
A key to El Paso’s appeal and identity is its symbiotic relationship with Juarez, Mexico. El Paso (population 974,000) and Juarez (population 1.5 million) make this the largest combined city on the U.S.-Mexico border. You can walk across the Paso del International Bridge to visit the Kentucky Bar (purportedly where margaritas were first mixed) or take a tour to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a vibrant mercado or restaurants serving top-flight Mexican cuisine.
“Juarez is very much part of our regional promotion,” said Rene Wong, Visit El Paso’s director of marketing and communications. “Our relationship with Juarez has never been better.”
Getting away from your meeting space for special events is easy in El Paso. Many venues are within walking distance of the downtown hotels.
The one with the best name is the city’s soccer and baseball stadium: the Wooftop Deck at Southwest University Park. Why Wooftop Deck? That’s a tip of the hat to the El Paso Chihuahuas AAA baseball team.
The Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of the Plaza Theatre Performing Arts Center sets the stage for several event types. The open-air Alcantar Sky Garden works well for a reception or dinner, and the lobby of the main theater works for receptions, too. The 2,000-seat Kendall Kidd Performance Hall is ideal for special entertainment, and the intimate 200-seat Philanthropy Theatre works for smaller groups.
The diverse exhibits at the El Paso Museum of Art make it a noteworthy candidate for off-site events, and the El Paso Museum of History offers an opportunity to learn about the entire region. The history museum’s permanent exhibition, “Changing Pass: People, Land and Memory,” traces 1,000 years of the El Paso del Norte region.
Barely a half-hour from downtown is a place for a truly Western experience. It is the Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs Ranch. Put on your blue jeans and cowboy boots for hay wagon rides beneath the ranch’s stark cliffs before settling down for a steak hot off the grill and a cold beer. It’s easy to see why the ranch has been a movie location several times over.
A surprise to many is the El Paso region’s winemaking history. Spanish colonists planted grapes here long before other Europeans were arriving on North America’s Atlantic coast. That heritage lives at Zin Valle Vineyards, where you can sample its wines or — better yet — enjoy some wine and live music on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Major Meeting Spaces
The world slowed during the pandemic, but El Paso showed signs of looking ahead during the slow time. Completion of a $3.1 million renovation at the El Paso Convention Center and the opening of two downtown hotels helped the city prepare for new business.
The convention center has 133,100 square feet of usable space (including 80,000 square feet without columns), 17 breakout rooms and 14,900 square feet of additional meeting space.
One of the Southwest’s most storied hotels, the Hotel Paso del Norte, took on new life in 2020 after a $100 million renovation. It opened in 1912 with 195 rooms. Its recent transformation created a gem with 350 rooms and 33,000 square feet of meeting space. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its guest register includes Amelia Earhart, Will Rogers, John Wayne, Franklin Roosevelt and, yes, Poncho Villa.
Smaller, and perhaps even more glittery, is the reborn 130-room Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park. It opened in 1930 as Conrad Hilton’s first high-rise hotel. Elizabeth Taylor once lived in the penthouse, now transformed into La Perla, a bar on the 17th floor. The building was shuttered for almost three decades until a $78 million renovation in 2020 restored the hotel’s luster and added 7,600 square feet of meeting space.
A trio of distinctive properties — the art-centric Stanton House, the Aloft El Paso and the Hotel Indigo — are just on the other side of San Jacinto Plaza from the convention center and provide even more room variety. A DoubleTree and a Courtyard by Marriott are nearby.
The Wyndham El Paso (272 rooms, 17,000 square feet of meeting space and a water park) and the Marriott El Paso (296 rooms and 13,400 square feet of meeting space) are near El Paso International Airport.
After the Meeting
Even if you have to depart El Paso when your meeting ends, hop on a streetcar to explore at least part of the city. El Paso’s streetcar system, which operated from the 1950s into the 1970s, is back and operating on 4.8 miles of track. It’s free, so hop off at any of the 27 stops to explore a bit. The cars, by the way, are both retro and real. They are restored vehicles from the old days, now air-conditioned and with Wi-Fi.
If your meeting doesn’t include an excursion to Juarez, take the time afterward. You can walk across the Paso del Norte International Bridge for individual exploration or take an organized tour. Highlights near the border are the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe (modern in the sense it was built from 1941-57) and the adjacent Franciscan mission (historic since it was founded in 1659). The Museum of the Revolution offers insights into Mexican history.
El Paso’s Zin Valle Vineyards is only one stop on a wine trail that leads to other wineries in New Mexico. The drive on Highway 28 to Mesilla, New Mexico, takes you past chile farms, pecan groves and cattle ranches and is an excuse to roll on into Las Cruces and then on to attractions such as White Sands National Park.
White Sands, upgraded from national monument to national park status in 2020, is your chance to go sledding on sand instead of snow. It is one of three national parks that might make you linger longer.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park (115 miles from El Paso) contains the four highest mountains in Texas and a surprise in this part of the country — a fall-color season. Only 150 miles away is Carlsbad National Park for an underground experience. The big attraction here has a simple name. It’s the Big Room, America’s largest cave chamber by volume.
The distances to these national treasures seem modest since you’ve probably already taken the biggest leg of your trip getting to El Paso in the first place. A little extra time and a few miles on a rental car are worth the effort.